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Back in March I was privileged to have a tour of the top of Burj Doha. The tower was built for H.E. Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohamed Bin Ali Al-Thani and was completed in 2012. Deigned by Jean Nouvel the tower is one of the many iconic buildings to be found in Qatar’s West Bay area.

Unfortunately in 2014 Sheikh Saoud passed away at the young age of 48. And work inside the top of Burj Doha stopped. Thus in March 2019 it looks the same as it did back in November 2014.

A view inside the top of Burj Doha in 2019

The private area which includes a swimming pool is accessible only by a private express elevator direct from the ground with no stops. The image below shows a model of how things could have looked. Featuring the display of art and a a library.

Model of how Burj Doha could have looked
A walk around the catwalk at the top of Burj Doha

In just 4 hours, get an entire vacations worth of photos to send home, and learn about the beautiful city that is Doha.

Qatar is full of interesting and mostly free things to see and do. I have been in Qatar for nine years and considered myself very capable of showing people around here. How wrong I was.

Qatar Quick RecommendedLast weekend I was invited by Sand Dunes to take one of their 4 hour city tours. I jumped at the opportunity because up until then I had never had a professional guide show me around Doha. Sure when I first got here a number of friends drove me around and gave me their thoughts and beliefs on what was what. But they could never have been as well informed as my guide was on this tour.

I strongly recommend that anyone visiting Qatar, who has an interested in learning about this wonderful country. Should give Sand Dunes a call and book their great value City Tour.

I had booked a night in the Saraya Corniche hotel last Thursday evening, and arranged to be picked up for my guided city tour from there. Sure enough at the allotted time (4:30pm) I got a call from someone who introduced himself as ‘Firas’ from Sand Dunes, informing me that he was downstairs in reception waiting for me.

Firas was super easy to like immediately. He was warm, friendly and extremely attentive. He helped me into his large 4×4 and asked a few questions about what I may be interested in seeing. The tour is not a fixed route with a fixed schedule. Your guide will design your tour around you and what you are most interested in experiencing.

View of the Saraya Corniche Hotel from the MIA car park. That’s our black Land Cruiser bottom left.

We left the Saraya Corniche and drove the short distance to our first stop The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). On the way Firas started to explain the history, architecture and purpose of this stunning building. Some of which I knew, and some of which I did not. Firas certainly knew his stuff.

On arrival at MIA it became obvious my guide came here regularly. The security staff knew him and welcomed both him and me warmly. I had already agreed with Firas that as I only wanted to grab some snap shots of MIA because I had been there before. He would wait for me with the car while I popped up for a lightning fast photographic visit. I was gone about 10 minuets and when I returned Firas was chatting and drinking tea with security, who were keen that I should join them. Can you imagine that happening in the UK at any museum you can think of? I politely declined the offer and we were back in the car heading to our next stop; The Pearl.

On the way to The Pearl, Firas gave a running commentary on points of interest along the route. Instead of just driving me around the Pearl which is what I usually do when entertaining guests, he did the smart thing and took me to the visitor center. I first walked into the Pearl Visitor Center back in 2007 when I came to Qatar on a business trip. Inside the Visitor Centre there is a large model of the Pearl development. The model of the Pearl is still there, but vastly updated.

I found this very interesting and spent quite a while exploring the center. With more time I would have grabbed a coffee and a croissant there as well. In future I will take all of my visiting guests there instead of just driving around the Pearl. It’s far more impressive.

From the Pearl we drove to Katara. The word Katara is what appeared on maps up until 1738 as the designation for what is now Qatar. And now Katara is one of the must see, cannot miss, places to visit in Qatar. And you need to set aside quite a bit of time to do it. As part of the City Tour, it’s important to pop into Katara. But to explore it properly you will need an entire evening. You would also need to check their website for interesting events that are continuously taking place there, to get the maximum out of your visit. Firas drove me around the perimeter a couple of times so I could grab some shots. But we didn’t park and go in.

Next we drove through Doha city center to checkout the amazing architecture and lighting. When I say City Centre, I actually mean West Bay. I believe that the city center could now be described as the Msheireb area. But West Bay is where the concentration of towers is, and this is what forms the iconic skyline images you always see of Qatar. For me being driven around West Bay was a superb experience, because I am normally the driver, and I don’t get to properly look around. From a distance the truly amazing vista that is West Bay, is absolutely stunning. But up close and personal these buildings are truly breathtaking.

We exited West Bay through Al Bidda Park. We did not stop in Al Bidda Park, because once again this is somewhere to dwell and enjoy. But when you drive through it,  you simply can’t imagine that Doha is in a desert country. So much green! And beautifully lit. With free to use fitness equipment and BBQ pits.

Then we did a drive past the Emiri Diwan. This is like Buckingham Palace back in the UK. Except that the Emir does not actually live here. It’s just where he goes to work. His office if you like. This is where visiting dignitaries are hosted. It’s more impressive at night when illuminated. And another photo you simply have to take.

Last but by no means least, we headed to Souq Waqif. Which for me is the number one destination for anyone visiting Qatar. Souq means market and Waqif means standing. So yup, you figured it out. Souq Waqif means Standing Market. Located in the shallow Msheireb Valley there used to be a river, and the souq grew up on either side of that river. Because it was so muddy business was done direct from boats initially. And yes, everyone was standing. Who wants to sit in mud.

The river has long since dried up. But the souq grew up and out. Getting larger and larger and becoming the major hub of commerce in Qatar for many years. Unfortunately, in 2004 there was a fire, and a lot of Souq Waqif was badly damaged. The Emir ordered that it should be re developed but in an authentic manner. And what you see today is the result. Mostly new build, but built to look traditional and established.

I have been taking visitors to Souq Waqif for nine years now. But was only walking them around the obvious attractions. With not a lot of information to offer them. I knew where the best sights and sounds were. I knew that the spice market area would blow their sense of smell away. I knew where to buy souvenirs and I knew some nice restaurants. But Firas was able to do so much more. He took me to places that I did not know existed, and if I did know they existed I didn’t know why they were significant.

Throughout the whole tour Firas had been a wealth of knowledge. But in the souq he really came into his own. He knew everyone. Everywhere we went he was greeting and being greeted by souq employees, staff and businessmen. It was an amazing experience.
I strongly recommend that anyone visiting Qatar, who has an interested in learning about this wonderful country. Should give Sand Dunes a call and book their great value City Tour. Even if you have lived here for a while you would take a lot from it.

The price of the tour is per car (1 to 4 capacity) not per person, and costs QR 600 (GBP 122 USD 165 EUR 139). Divided among 4  that works out at just QR 150 each. An absolute bargain.

References

Sand Dunes: +974 4441 3313 http://sdqholidays.com/

Katara:  http://www.katara.net/en

Souq Waqif: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souq_Waqif

In 2017, Qatar’s total population was 2.6 million. 313,000 of which were Qatari citizens

Welcome to Qatar! Qataris, namely the local population of Qatar, consist primarily of people of hathari (urban) and bedouin (nomadic) origin. There are also people who come from Persia, who are called houla, and most of them are merchants. Also, there people who have come from other parts of the Gulf, even Africa, to settle; nowadays, a lot of these people are considered Qataris.
Hathari people’s ancestors were involved in pearl fishing in the past, while bedouins were associated with camel breeding and falconry. Some argue that these activities are not restricted to a group; rather, either group would make use of one during winter/summer months. Therefore, a lot of people would be moving between sea and desert depending on the season! It is not accidental that such activities form a vital aspect of Qatari national identity. In fact, the celebrations for the Qatar National Day (18th of Dec.) include lots of events that rotate around these activities. Images and ideas associated with pearl fishing, maritime trade and desert nomadism that are used to evoke Qatar’s past include Bedouin tents and carpets, falcons used for hunting, camels, weapons, sailing vessels, and pearls and pearl diving equipment. Symbols of national identity include the family, items associated with the nation’s past, and images of the current Emir, H.H. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, as well as the Father Emir, H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Qataris often employ an idiom of kinship and/or tribalism, referring to compatriots as “brother,” “sister,” or “cousin.” This linguistic convention signals the inclusion of those sharing citizenship while excluding foreign workers. These words are also used to address other fellow Muslims and, sometimes, non Muslims as well.
Qataris speak the Qatari dialect of Arabic, and there are some interesting phonetic and vocabulary, among other, differences between hatharis and bedouins: hatharis use the sound /y/ instead of the bedouin /j/ in words like /dayyay/ instead of /dajjaj/ (‘chicken’), and also say /tshi/ and /tshiδi/ instead of the bedouin /kiδa//kɪðə/ meaning ‘like this’. Another characteristic Qatari expression, which I have found neat and cute is ‘jau landini’, which means ‘London weather’, and it is used by Qataris on cloudy and rainy days.
Qataris are evident through their clothing and their very distinctive perfumes! In terms of clothing, the traditional Qatari attire for men includes the Qatari thοbe, which is distinctive due to its squared collar, the ghutrah, namely the white or sometimes red cloth that men wear in various styles, such as the cobra one (which is my favorite, by the way!), the agal, namely a black cord, worn doubled, used to keep a ghutrah in place on the wearer’s head. It is traditionally made of goat hair. Compared to other Khalijee (Gulf) male national dresses, the Qatari male attire also has the karakish, namely three (usually) hanging tassels. In winter, men wear thobes and ghutras of different colors, such as blue, grey and yellow. Under the ghutrah and agal men wear the gehfeya, which is an embroidered hat. They also usually wear sandals, and rumor has it that the best sandal brand is considered to be Tamima! In terms of accessories, men usually wear cufflinks, a matching pen and a watch. Such accessories started coming into fashion in the ’90s. An important aspect of Qatari masculinity is men’s beard and mustache, both of which are usually very well groomed.
Women wear a black and usually plain abaya, but nowadays due to influence from fashion designers’ social media accounts younger women have started wearing abayas in different colors as well as shoulder embroidered ones. Women also wear a headscarf, which is called sheila, and some of them also wear a niqab, namely a black cloth, which hides their face. You might have also noticed that some older women (especially in souq waqif but also in traditional weddings) wear a facial mask, which is called battoulah. Women would apply indigo on the inside of the mask to whiten their skin and cover their face. In some of the make-up flasks you will find lipstick or kohl eye-liner made from charcoal and other substances. Make-up is usually worn by women throughout the day and the same also goes for their accessories, which usually include Western fashion designer bags.
All Qataris, regardless of their gender, also walk around holding cell phones, something that attests to their engagement with social media. Lots of communication, actually, takes place via social media, even when they are sitting together or they are in the same room.
In terms of their perfumes, which are a significant cultural dimension of the Qatari identity, both men and women prefer strong and expensive perfumes, the most characteristic of which are Rakaan, Nashwa, Roohi Fedak, Attar Al Kaaba, Haneen and Alif Laila O Laila (for women), and Dar al Tamimi Hamad and Tameem perfume (for men). The list is really endless…!
Both men and women in Qatar are known for their hospitality and generosity! You can get a glimpse of these, if you are lucky enough to be invited to their weddings (celebrated differently by women and men), houses, desert camps and, also, if you are a man and get invited to their ardha (sword) dance!
Good luck and have fun discovering the hidden secrets of Qataris!

Sources

Please watch the QTips videos, which give you very useful information about Qataris and Qatari culture from an insider’s perspective and in an entertaining way!
Also, regarding Qatari perfumes, you can have a look at this website for more information: http://www.qatarcollections.com/category/perfumes/272/?page=1&
The various Gulf thobes are found here: https://findery.com/ECWC/notes/gulf-country-national-dress

Many thanks to Afra Al-Kholifi for her useful feedback on this piece. Any errors and inaccuracies remaining are my own.

Laundromat an Exhibition by Ai Weiwei :: 15th March – 1st June 2018

The Fire Station Gallery offer regular exhibitions by top artists and organisation. And they are free to visit.

Qatar Quick Visited

Laundromat is an installation that addresses the recent refugee crisis. It focuses on the refugee camp at Idomeni on the border of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Don’t miss an opportunity to visit this exhibition, by one of the great artists of our time.

Last night I attended a very interesting lecture hosted for Honorary Cultural Ambassadors, on the subject of Intercultural Communications in Qatar. Our lecturer Dr. Irene Theodoropoulou from Qatar University was absolutely brilliant at discussing  the subject utilising many examples, experiences and much humour.

I have been in Qatar for nearly nine years now. And consider myself pretty knowledgeable on Intercultural Communications having spent a great deal of time living and working with cultures from all over the world. Yet she was still able to expand on and clarify the knowledge I have self acquired.

Inspired by her lecture, I am going to make sure that Qatar Quick will have a section on Intercultural Communications very soon. To help you interact with not only locals but also the expats working here from all over the globe.

Doha Fire Station Art Gallery
The lecture was presented in the Fire Station Art Gallery